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Green Acre #64: Garden Memories, If I Can Remember Them

Dappled sunlight, yes, but the Cavanaugh acreage is mostly a shady, shady place. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

WHAT ARE THESE green stalks coming out of the large terracotta pot on the back porch steps? I thought I’d emptied it when the elephant ear bulbs emerged. I potted the bulbs early to give them a sun boost before moving them into the garden where they fill bare patches quite prolifically.

The resulting pot of dirt sat there for a week or so while I drank coffee and contemplated its emptiness, thinking about what I might use it for. And lo! One morning a green thing emerged: It was stiff and pointed and seemed to grow at an excellent pace, whatever it was. Until My Prince hung a soaking hose over the railing and crushed the stalk.

So I watched some more. And lo! More green things began an energetic upward thrust (it’s very hot today, can you tell?).

I think they are bananas.

This is exciting, if it is so.

Out front there has been a similar thrill of unidentifiable stalks. Now these, I thought, were possibly bananas, but they’re

The author thought that spike of orange was ornamental ginger (though how it migrated from the back yard to the front was a mystery). But she heard otherwise from her daughter; see Comments. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

not. Last week, small knobs formed at the tips and just yesterday went spreeee in a flurry of orange frittle.* Ginger! My ornamental ginger. [Um, no. See Comments, below.] I thought I’d left that for dead last fall when I was too lazy to take it out and put it in cold storage. Apparently not.

I also don’t recall moving it to the front yard. I love a mystery.

There was a time, years and years in fact, when I kept track of everything I bought and planted. There are entire notebooks of notes. Sketches of my minute terrain and lists of what went where so I knew what to expect the following spring and what I should buy to fill in.

There were also, helpfully, little tags with the names of the this and the that, allowing me to answer authoritatively when people asked what’s this? and what’s that?

No longer. No tags, no notes. It’s a gardening high-wire act. I really haven’t a clue.

Now I do recognize the stalwarts: the hydrangeas, the azalea, the mock orange, the rose—the perennials. Notes were once taken about these, so their names can be found. They are also either evergreen or bloom on old wood so their positions in the garden are always secure. They grow without fear that I will stick something on top, or trample them underfoot.

It’s the other stuff, the ephemerals, as it were. Sometimes they reemerge, sometimes they go poof, gone.

How did I lose Queen Anne’s Lace, about as invasive a weed as ever lived, which has never put me off wanting it? I struggled for years to establish a crop, patiently drifting seeds from their heads, or attempting to transplant them from the junk yards where they grow most prolifically, with absolutely no human interference. Last year, finally, a scattering of flowers emerged and I cooed and applauded and you’d think the plants would be thrilled to perform for me again this year. Not a sign.

And the charming pink and lavender daisy-headed cosmos, such reliable re-seeders, have entirely disappeared.

On the other hand. The elephant ears are ridiculous. Owing to the winter that nearly wasn’t, they hid underground and

The lower window boxes at the front of the house are blasting away, complete with potato vine and spiky little yews (maybe) that look like nothing so much as Dr. Seuss-style lollipops. / Photo here and on the front by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

emerged laughing, just when I’d bought and planted their replacements. So this year there is a stampede.

Meanwhile, the coleus is up. A rare success among the seeds started this year. A whole packet of seed, two lousy plants. Maybe there will be more since these just emerged, such lovely, tender deep pink and green leaves, providing what little color this terminally shady garden offers in mid-summer.

Around the front of the house, the lavender plants in the lower window boxes, the centerpieces that I was so boastful about in a previous column, have departed. They’ve been replaced with these . . . things . . . that might be yews. I instantly lost their tags. I adore them. Not just because they look like Dr. Seussian lollipops, but because they are the same acid green as the potato vines that drape the box fronts, one poking up, the other ruffling down. Between these two, and the supporting cast of flowers (both real and fake), the boxes are developing into a fantastic sight.

Oh yes, this reminds me, there might be one other success with seeds (bang on wood). There are moonflowers in the boxes that—if all goes as planned, which it probably won’t—should mingle with the potato vines and burst into saucer-sized white flowers that, with a little luck, will go off like doorbells of decadent scent in our entry.

By the way, did you know rosemary is making news as a boon to your memory? (This is one of those discoveries that were already discovered centuries ago. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember,” said Ophelia, thinking of Hamlet; and Shakespeare was hardly the first to take note of the herb’s heady powers.) In a rare triumph of gardening, the rosemary plants in my upper boxes are still thriving one year later and available for eating. Or sniffing . . . I’m not sure what one is supposed to do.

Or maybe I already forgot.

*apparently not a word, but shouldn’t it be?

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie writes about gardening in a little city plot, with little sun and not much science behind the plantings. You can read her earlier columns by typing Green Acre in the Search box at the top of the screen. 

7 thoughts on “Green Acre #64: Garden Memories, If I Can Remember Them

  1. Carol says:

    “Yew” did it again!

  2. Kathy Legg says:

    Confession–I hate gardening, but I truly enjoy your efforts.

    1. I clearly don’t much care for it myself. I just chose a subject for this column that wasn’t already claimed and dove in. Just give me a tropical beach, guacamole, and a margarita and… well what more can one say about that? But THANK YOU for enjoying it!

  3. Article update! My ever astute daughter (Baby) just phoned (an actual phone call in itself conveys the urgency of the message) to say, “MA! That’s not ginger, it’s a canna. Remember you took some from me last summer…?” Now this delightful discovery is exactly what I’m talking about – no tags, no notes, a surprise. (Sure looks like a ginger though).

  4. kelly janet says:

    I have some hydrangeas that bloomed and some that refused to give even one measly flower. Reasons why that could be?

    1. Have they bloomed in past years? This winter was a tricky one for hydrangeas. Mine set bud very early and then we had a sudden freeze that completely did them in. A friend who is brilliant at hydrangeas feeds them twice a year with Hollytone – at Easter and Halloween, which makes it easy to remember. NORMALLY this works quite well. Meanwhile, may I suggest a trip to Michael’s for some fabulous fakes (just stick with realistic colors, strip off the leaves, and stick them in your plants. I swear this will make you smile — or I’ll buy them back from you).

      1. Janet Kelly says:

        I wasn’t here last spring or fall, so I’ll try Hollytone. But perhaps a trip to Michael’s is in order as well. Thanks, Stephanie.

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